A Belgian ban on the Muslim and Jewish ways of ritually slaughtering animals went into effect on New Year’s Day, part of a clash across Europe over the balance between animal welfare and religious freedom.
With both animal welfare advocates and right-wing nationalists pushing to ban ritual slaughter, religious minorities in Belgium and other countries fear they are the targets of bigotry under the guise of animal protection, according to New York Times.
“It is impossible to know the true intentions of people,” said Yaakov David Schmahl, a senior rabbi in Antwerp. “Unless people state clearly what they have in mind, but most anti-Semites don’t do that.”
Laws across Europe and European Union regulations require that animals be rendered insensible to pain before slaughter. For larger animals, stunning before slaughter usually means using a “captive bolt” device that fires a metal rod into the brain; for poultry it usually means an electric shock. Animals can also be knocked out with gas.
But slaughter by Muslim halal and Jewish kosher rules requires that an animal be in perfect health — which religious authorities say rules out stunning it first — and be killed with a single cut to the neck that severs critical blood vessels. The animal loses consciousness in seconds, and advocates say it may cause less suffering than other methods.
Most countries and the EU allow religious exceptions to the stunning requirement.
Ann De Greef, director of Global Action in the Interest of Animals, a Belgian animal welfare group, insisted that stunning does not conflict with kosher and halal doctrine, and “they could still consider it ritual slaughtering,” but the religious authorities refuse to accept that.
Belgium, with a population of about 11 million, is home to roughly 500,000 Muslims and more than 30,000 Jews.
Leaders of both groups say they hope that lawsuits they have filed in Belgium’s Constitutional Court might lift the ban on slaughtering without stunning later this year.
“The government asked for our advice on the ban, we responded negatively, but the advice wasn’t taken,” said Saatci Bayram, a leader of the Muslim community. “This ban is presented as a revelation by animal welfare activists, but the debate on animal welfare in Islam has been going on for 1,500 years. Our way of ritual slaughtering is painless.”
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